Facing the Jellyfish


Several years ago we were enjoying a family gathering at New Smyrna Beach. It was late September, when the water temperatures are warm and inviting. The skies were blue with just a hint of the clouds that would darken into afternoon storms, and the waves were strong and low, just right for boogie boarding. Everyone was frolicking happily when my sister-in-law came bounding out of the waves, clutching at her thigh. A small red welt was forming. “Jellyfish!” she called out. “Everyone get out of the water!”

My sister, a fish by nature who lives in the Nevada desert, was last out. She walked along the sand for a while, looking longingly at the waves breaking on the shore. Then she returned to where my sister-in-law sat on a beach towel, enjoying the view. “What did it feel like?” Kathe asked her.

Sara thought for a minute. “Like a bee sting,” she responded.

She had assessed the risk, considered the reward, and chose for herself which was more important to her. And guess what? She didn’t get stung.

Kathe continued to probe. “How long did it last?”

Sara thought again. “About five minutes,” she estimated.

Kathe stood on the sand thinking. Then she said “OK!” and ran back into the ocean with a boogie board under her arm. She had assessed the risk, considered the reward, and chose for herself which was more important to her. And guess what? She didn’t get stung.

That’s what we need to be doing in this pandemic. Life is full of risks, and humans are natural problem solvers. Given enough information, we can decide for ourselves how to limit those risks, plan for the worst, and proceed with caution — or with abandon, if that’s our choice.

The “second wave” that pundits are now warning us about should not be a cause for alarm or a panicked return to our bunkers, crying that we reopened “too soon.”

When it began, this shutdown was not about preventing the disease but about delaying the disease. It would put the virus on hold and provide an opportunity to study it, examine the risks, look for effective treatments, and slow the spread of the virus while we geared up to fight it.

Now we have the mistaken idea that “no new cases” is the only acceptable position. This is not only a foolish position; it is an impossible one. As we start to reopen our businesses and our lives — and we must! — we are going to see an increase in cases of COVID-19. The virus has not gone away. The “second wave” that pundits are now warning us about should not be a cause for alarm or a panicked return to our bunkers, crying that we reopened “too soon.” The second wave is simply part of the cycle. We know how to ride the wave now. Yes, some people are still going to get sick. Yes, the ones who are most at risk should still stay out of the water. People have been known to die even from the stings of jellyfish.

But comparatively few are going to die. I say “comparatively” because there are nearly eight billion people on this planet. According to the World Health Organization, about 56 million people die each year, which is an average of about 153,000 people each day. Over a million people die each week. Each week!! This coronavirus is small potatoes compared to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases — and guess what? People with those conditions are the ones most likely to succumb to COVID. There’s a reason death by heart disease is down during this epidemic — as computed by officials who count every death of someone infected with the virus as a death from the virus.

More people are going to get sick. More people are going to die. That’s sad, but it’s a fact.

The “second wave” that’s terrifying pundits today should appear as no surprise. It is as predictable as the next wave in the ocean. More people are going to get sick. More people are going to die. That’s sad, but it’s a fact. Those “flatten the curve” charts never predicted a reduction in total cases (which is impossible), but a spreading out of the cases. Instead of experiencing a sharp spike followed by a sharp descent, we could see a lower, broader peak that would last longer. This would allow us to gather supplies, reduce strain on medical services, and then manage the cases as we gradually descend the other side of the slope. We must ride this wave out, or we will crash and drown if we stall in the pipe any longer.

We’ve already spent several weeks hunkered down in our homes. During that time we’ve read countless reports and examined countless charts. We’ve listened to scientists, politicians, doctors, philosophers, and armchair experts. We’ve observed and we’ve considered. Now it’s time to assess our risks and decide for ourselves whether we’ll sit on the sand till the storm comes and it’s too late to swim, or get back into the ocean, knowing that we might spend five minutes ouching over a jellyfish sting. Those who are allergic to jellyfish venom: stay home. The rest of us are ready to ride this wave.

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John Baker

I'm with you, Jo Ann. Let's get our gear and head out into the surf. I'm an old man and I'm not sitting around cowering in fear for even one day. We face many, many risks in our daily lives, and -- just as you state -- we each make decision based on our own level of fear and understanding.

Personally, I don't fear this virus anymore than I would fear breaking my neck while riding my bicycle over to Deadrock, Montana and back. I don't want a broken neck, but it could happen. It's time to "Cowboy Up" and ride!


Thanks John--I admire your attitude! We Boomers have been through plenty already: the Cold War with its bomb drills, the polio epidemic, HIV, stagflation, oil crises, and so much more. We take precautions, but we don't cower in bunkers. Life is full of risks. We manage to avoid most of them.


Sorry but these metaphors of jellyfish stings and motorcycle wrecks just don't make any sense, because those things are not contagious, much less highly contagious like the present virus.

If they were, Jo Ann's relative who plunged back into the ocean wouldn't just be taking the risk herself, she'd be exposing everyone in their party who stayed on the shore, any personnel who had to treat her after the potential sting, and anyone they encountered that day or even up to a week later. Same for whoever would be pulling you out of your motorcycle wreckage, plus all the people you interacted with on your day out and for weeks after.

Because this transmits asymptomatically in many cases, Jo Ann's relative could even have gotten stung or you could have gotten into a wreck, not know it, and still be passing jellyfish stings or wrecks onto everyone you encounter.

If libertarians are truly committed to a principle of non-aggression, right now that means staying home except for essential errands and following appropriate precautions when on those errands, until we reach the levels of testing and contact tracking required to resume anything like normal commerce. Capitalism is not so fragile that it can't come roaring back after this mess is over.


sorry but no. This is an airborne virus. It is never going away. You will be exposed to it, I will be exposed to it, and everyone else on the planet will be exposed to it. Nothing that you or I or anyone else does will change that.


Using libertarians' non-aggression principle against them to justify authoritarian edicts of questionable consitutionality and decidedly aggressive in nature. Nice try but not buying it.

While dealing with a public health crisis is arguably a valid function of government, it also is a major longer term threat to liberty. In emergencies and crises governments always overreach and then, when the main danger has passed, refuse to relinquish the new powers they've given themselves. They like to use words like "the new normal" and so on. This has to be argued against, and argued early.

And Jo Ann's argument that liberty means accepting risk has always been true. Your choice: trust your sometimes idiotic neighbors, or live under arbitrary rule where law, checks and balances all become optional every time a new "emergency" pops up.

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